Why it Takes so Long to Change Negative Thoughts

SummerBody Image, Self-Love

Last week I was on a coaching call with the badass babes in You, On Fire and one of the participants asked, “Do we have to be intentional with challenging our old thoughts?”

My answer was, “yes… we do need to be intentional with it. AND, it is hard to change negative thoughts because we’re living in a culture that will be challenging every new belief.”

I often hear from people who have been working on breaking free of all the lies they’ve learned about bodies, health, and their worth and they are hard on themselves for not being “further along.” It’s easy to look at where other people are and beat yourself up for a perceived “lack of progress.”

It’s important to understand that rewiring the way we think and behave is a huge undertaking.

As I said before, diet culture is The Soul Sucker™ that implants a desire for weight loss in us, which dictates our thoughts and behaviour.

Breaking free of that requires us to learn a new way of thinking and being. Think of it like learning German in a culture that speaks English. It’s not easy.

That’s why I love using the framework of The 4 Stages Of Learning* to illustrate the various stages of this process.

This framework is SUPER helpful to understanding why it can take a while to change these ingrained thoughts and behaviours and will give you hope that things will and DO get better with practice and time.

Here are the stages of learning as applied to moving to a place of acceptance with your body (and self).

Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence (a.k.a. “wait, it isn’t normal to hate your body?”)

This is the stage where we don’t have awareness of our unhelpful thoughts or behaviours. In other words, we’re beating ourselves up, hating our bodies and believing that if only we lost weight, all would be right with our life.

We’re unaware of how damn hard we are to ourselves because it’s so normalized.

To get out of this stage, perhaps you stumble upon a blog or podcast like mine and realize, “WAIT, it doesn’t have to be this way?! Tell me more…” 

This is where you enter stage 2…

Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence (a.k.a. “Why can’t I get rid of these thoughts?”)

In this stage, you’ve woken up.

You have come to realize we’ve been fed a bunch of grass-fed-vegan-GMO-free bullshit about diets and health. You feel a desire to fight back and reclaim your right for respect, freedom and worth.

You start to learn and read more.

You acquire some tools to work with.

You become aware of your unhelpful thoughts and behaviours, but find them really hard to change.

And, even when you are able to catch those thoughts, it doesn’t necessary make you FEEL better. 

This is the stage where most people struggle and are most tempted to diet.

It is HARD to be in this place. 

You judge yourself for not being “further along” and wonder “why can’t I just feel like those other body positive people feel? What is wrong with me?!?!?!?” 

This is where you need the most perseverance, rallying and compassion. You’re undoing DECADES of social conditioning.


This is where reaching out for support, getting help and immersing yourself in supportive communities is integral.

Stage 3 – Conscious Competence (a.k.a. “I didn’t think anything negative about my body today!”)

Whew, you made it past the worst spot. Way to go! This is where those horrible thoughts become more fleeting. The volume has been turned down.

You’re more solid in your convictions and you have more neutral or positive days than bad ones.

The negative thoughts are quieter and when they do pop up, you can work through them much more easily. They rarely dictate your emotions or actions.

This is where a lot of people remain and that is because living in a thin-obsessed patriarchal society is HARD. We’re constantly having our beliefs challenged and being told that we’re not good enough.

If you’re in this stage, I would say you are doing pretty damn good. 

Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence (a.k.a. the neutral zone)

At this stage, the old stories and reactions don’t pop up anymore. We feel much more at peace with ourselves and our bodies.

We accept that we’re going to be challenged, but it doesn’t shake us.

Our go-to reaction becomes compassion and acceptance.

Even when you’re here, you’ll still have self-doubt and rough days – because contrary to what social media wants you to believe, no one has their shit together. 

It’s totally normal to be a hot mess sometimes.

This is not a linear path and everyone moves through this differently because we’re individuals with unique experiences.

But, by having an idea of where you’re at, you’ll be able to give yourself a round of applause for moving closer to a place of acceptance.

*The 4 Stages of Learning was first uncovered by Noel Burch of Gordon Training International.